Array of Baptists embrace presidential contenders


Southern Baptist support has shown to be delved out to all the Republican candidates. THINKSTOCKPHOTO.COM/Special Southern Baptist support has shown to be delved out to all the Republican candidates. THINKSTOCKPHOTO.COM/Special

By Art Toalston

NASHVILLE (BP) — The campaign trail is cutting an ever-widening swath through Southern Baptist notables.

In short:

• Paige Patterson is among the Southern Baptists on a Ted Cruz religious liberty advisory board; R. Albert Mohler Jr. is on a Marco Rubio pro-life advisory board; and Rick Warren is on a Rubio religious liberty advisory board.

• Cruz has been endorsed by Jerry Johnson, president of National Religious Broadcasters, and by his Houston pastor, Gregg Matte of First Baptist Church.

• Donald Trump now has former candidate Mike Huckabee's daughter as one of his senior advisers.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich has garnered endorsements from former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and from Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

Cruz advisory board

The Ted Cruz campaign announced its 19-member religious liberty advisory board on March 1.

In addition to Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, TX, the board includes Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former U.S. Senate candidate; Tony Beam, North Greenville University's vice president for student services and Christian worldview; and home rehab personalities David and Jason Benham.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council in Washington and a Southern Baptist, is the advisory board's chairman. Also on the board are Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Ryan Anderson, a senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation.

Rubio advisory boards

The Marco Rubio campaign announced its 10-member pro-life advisory board on Jan. 19 and its 15-member religious liberty advisory board on Jan. 5.

In addition to Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., the pro-life Rubio panel includes Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood director turned pro-life advocate; Ravi Zacharias, president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries; Scott Klusendorf, president of the Life Training Institute; Francis Beckwith, professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University; and Steve Aden of the Alliance Defending Freedom serving as director of its Center for Life Alliances.

In addition to Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California, the Rubio religious liberty panel, according to a report by WORLD Magazine in January, includes Thomas White, president of Cedarville University in Ohio; Wayne Grudem, research professor of theology and biblical studies with Phoenix Seminary; Thomas Kidd, distinguished professor of history and associate director of Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion; and Doug Napier, executive vice president of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

The Rubio religious liberty board also included Samuel Rodriguez, who was listed on the similar board with the Cruz campaign. Baptist Press attempted to check with the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference but had not received clarification by its March 3 mid-afternoon deadline.

Trump & Huckabee

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's daughter Sarah Huckabee joined the Trump campaign as a senior adviser on Feb. 25, according to CNN, after the Huckabee presidential campaign was suspended in early February.

Sarah Huckabee, in a statement quoted by CNN, said she "volunteered to join Mr. Trump's campaign because he is a champion of working families; not Washington-Wall Street elites." Trump "will break the grip of the donor class on our government and make it accountable to working families again," she said.

On Super Tuesday (March 1), Mike Huckabee made Trump-related news when he admonished on the "Fox and Friends" morning show, "... don't pretend somehow that all these voters who have gone out and voted for him are stupid," The Hill reported. "They're not stupid ... they're angry."

Huckabee, who has not endorsed Trump, is a former Fox News personality, Baptist pastor, and president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

Other endorsements

• Jerry Johnson, NRB president and a former president of Criswell College in Dallas and former administrator at Southern Seminary, endorsed Cruz in a two-minute YouTube video Feb. 29 titled "Why I'm voting for Ted Cruz in 2016." Johnson acknowledged his role with NRB in the video but stated that he was making the endorsement as an individual.

• Gregg Matte, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Houston where Cruz and his family are members, embraced Cruz's candidacy in a statement to the campaign initially in December which was recirculated on Matte's Facebook page in late February.

"We all know Senator Cruz as a brilliant, strong, and confident leader, unswervingly handling the Constitution with respect and wisdom," Matte, a former president of the SBC Pastors' Conference, said. "But I also know him as a husband, father, and friend. Ted Cruz is in touch with the normal routines of everyday life while also being outstanding in dealing with the complex issues of our day. This combination of character and competence gives me confidence that, under Ted's leadership, America can once again head in the right direction."

• Rubio's campaign website lists the endorsements of former Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and Hobby Lobby founder David Green.

• In January, much-publicized pro-Trump comments were voiced by Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, but not a formal endorsement, while Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, endorsed the New York tycoon and TV personality. Critical assessments of Trump, meanwhile, have been frequently voiced by Russell Moore, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission who has not endorsed a candidate or otherwise openly identified with a candidate.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich's campaign in Mississippi is being chaired by Andy Taggart, a member of the Jackson-area Broadmoor Baptist Church and former executive director of the Mississippi Republican Party who also served as a chief of staff for former Gov. Kirk Fordice.

A Kasich news release also listed the endorsements of Baptist church members Trent Lott, U.S. senator from Mississippi from 1988-2007, and Robert Bentley, Alabama's current governor.

On Super Tuesday, Trump prevailed in seven states; Cruz in three; Rubio in one.

Reprinted from Baptist Press (, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

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